From surfing the waters of North Shore to the bustling capital of Honolulu, Oahu is one of the most diverse and beautiful islands to visit. Known as “The Gathering Place,” this island is home to 85% of the Hawaiian population. With so many options for things to do on Oahu, it’s hard to know where to start. Will you spend the day hiking volcanic mountains or sunbathing on Hawaii’s famous beaches? And don’t forget about the many historic sites, museums, and restaurants! Organizing the perfect Hawaiian vacation can be overwhelming. Make your planning a little easier and download our complimentary Vacation Guide! It’s packed with ideas for things to do on Oahu, including events, dining options, and outdoor recreation. Get your copy today!
A Guide to the Best Things to Do on Oahu
With pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, and lush hiking trails, Oahu is one of the best places to enjoy the great outdoors. Be sure to take advantage of the many adventures that Oahu’s unique landscape offers when you visit. Here are some of our favorite ways to explore and lounge.
When it comes to hiking, the islands of Hawaii are a top travel destination. Trek through well-worn trails or explore more secluded areas and discover the wonder of Oahu. Hike the short but steep descent to Diamond Head State Monument and stand amidst a massive crater created more than 300,000 years ago. From this unique vantage point, hikers have a beautiful bird’s eye view of Honolulu. Adventurous hikers can embark on a journey to the top of Mount Olomana, the tallest of three peaks along the Olomana Trail.
Families looking for an easy hike can follow the paved trail to Makapu’u Lighthouse. This two-hour roundtrip hike rewards travelers with a view of the iconic red-roofed lighthouse constructed in 1909. Be sure to bring binoculars along to catch glimpses native Hawaiian birds or the exciting migration of humpback whales in the winter months.
There are few places on Earth with beaches like Oahu. Spend the afternoon sunbathing on Lanikai Beach, named the No. 1 Beach in the World by CNN Traveler! Watch surfers from the shore of Sandy Beach on the South Shore. Have you always wanted to explore Waikiki Beach? Check out Kahanamoku, the widest stretch of Waikiki with calm waters and a five-acre lagoon to explore.
A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without trying one of the many watersports practiced on the islands. From surfing and paddleboarding to kayaking and parasailing, there is no shortage of things to do on Oahu.
Known for its outstanding surf conditions, Oahu is the place to hang ten whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-timer. Board rentals are available all over the island, and surf lessons are offered from experts. Check out these local companies when looking for rentals or lessons:
Kailua Beach Adventures
Pa’ani Wai Hawaii Watersports
Hanauma Bay State Park is a favorite spot for snorkeling. Formed as a result of volcanic activity, the bay is protected from rough waves and is known for its high fish population. Swim over white sands and colorful coral reefs to discover beautiful tropical fish and peek into underwater caves. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve offers tours through the bay with the option to explore the famous North Shore and Turtle Canyon.
If you’re looking for things to do on Oahu with the whole family, a kayak trip is the perfect activity! Embark on a tour with Twogood Kayaks or Hawaiian Watersports and explore the beautiful beaches of Kailua and Lanikai. You’ll spot native marine animals like the Green Hawaiian Sea Turtle and Hawaiian Monk Seal while surrounded by the lush, majestic mountains of Oahu.
With such a diverse population of people, Hawaiian cuisine spans many cultures. Seek out traditional Hawaiian dishes for a taste of the islands, or try a variety of ethnic restaurants. Here are a few eateries we recommend dining at.
For a true Hawaiian fine dining experience, book a table at Senia. The restaurant has three different areas to eat: the main dining room, the chef’s counter, and a private area upstairs for groups of eight or more. Whether you choose to indulge in the chefs’ tasting menu or order a la carte, you will not be disappointed in the delectable cuisine!
A native of Honolulu, chef Kajioka fuses his Japanese heritage with French culinary training, which is complemented by chef Rush’s experience as a European chef. Sit at the chef’s counter for a chance to chat up these talented cooks! If you opt for the main dining room, be sure to order the poke crackers and the charred cabbage with a glass of pineapple iced tea.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
This quaint, laid-back eatery is a staple of the local food scene. A recipient of the reputable James Beard Regional Classic Award, Helena’s Hawaiian Food serves up traditional Hawaiian eats in an assuming fashion. Choose from an eclectic, a la carte menu that includes Kalua pig, short ribs, poke, and butterfish collar.
Yamas Mediterranean Grill
If you’re craving a little Mediterranean flair, this restaurant in Kailua will not disappoint. Offering traditional dishes like shawarma, hummus, and gyros, Yamas is praised for its high-quality Greek dishes. Make sure to save room for dessert and order the baklava!
Museums & Historic Sites
History abounds in Hawaii! For rainy days things to do on Oahu, check out the island’s many fascinating museums and historic sites.
Honolulu Museum of Art
The Honolulu Museum of Art exhibits more than 50,000 works in a beautifully designed facility. Peruse the rotating art exhibits, watch a featured film in the Doris Duke Theatre, and take advantage of year-round events to enjoy all that the museum has to offer.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Discover the rich, diverse culture of the Hawaiian Islands with a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This interactive, education facility is made up of six replica islands, the Pacific Theater, and on-site restaurants.
With four distinct sites, Pearl Harbor is best experienced as a whole day trip. Pay tribute to those affected by the events of December 7, 1941, at the silent and reflective USS Arizona memorial area. Then, climb aboard the USS Bowfin, a WWII attack submarine, and walk through the Pacific Aviation Museum.
O’ahu Annual Events by Month
The year-round tropical climate of the Hawaiian Islands means there’s always a festival, party, or special event taking place! Here’s a short list of some of the best annual celebrations to get you started.
O’ahu is rich with vibrant history, compelling culture, and boundless adventures. Home to the majority of Hawai’i’s population, “The Gathering Place” lives up to its name. Between breathtaking views of the North Shore and the busy city center that is Honolulu, you’re guaranteed to have the time of your life! The annual events that take place on this island truly capture the essence of Hawai’i. From showcases of Hawaiian dance and music to food festivals and flower parades, visitors will experience the Aloha State from a local perspective at these highly-acclaimed O’ahu events.
World-class golf professionals play at the stunning Waialae Country Club. This major event raises funds for local nonprofit organizations. If you’re planning on visiting Hawai’i in January, don’t miss the tee–off at this grand golf event!
If you’re fascinated by Hawaiian culture and its roots, you will love the Honolulu Festival. This premier event celebrates Hawaiian culture as well as the different cultures found throughout Pacific regions. Enjoy the engaging performances and observe the event’s main theme, “Pacific harmony.”
Every year on May 1, visitors and locals participate in the Lei Day Celebration. The Lei is a widely recognized symbol for “Aloha.” Perfect for family fun, this colorful event features artisans and their handcrafted Leis as well as games, crafts, and food.
The entire month of May consists of musical recognition and cultural commemoration. Mele Mei is a celebration of Hawaiian music. From hula and ukulele to island reggae and steel guitar, no genre goes unnoticed. If you’re visiting the island of O’ahu in May, you’re guaranteed a rockin’ time listening to incredible live music.
Hawai’i’s lively color palette is trending in everything from high fashion to interior design. If you’re drawn to the vivid radiance of O’ahu, then you don’t want to miss the King Kamehameha Floral Parade. The century-old parade showcases brightly decorated floats and horse riders every June in Honolulu.
Mango Jam Honolulu takes place each June to honor one of Hawai’i’s tastiest fruits, the mango! Get a taste of O’ahu’s most beloved fruit along with other delicious delicacies. The festival features live entertainment, craft booths, a beer garden, and a farmer’s market.
Returning to the Iolani Palace every year in July, the Prince Lot Hula Festival attracts spectators from all over the world. While the event is centered around hula, it is not competitive. Visitors learn a lot from the many cultural demonstrations and festival performances.
While sake is a popular Japanese beverage, it is widely recognized, especially in Hawai’i! The Joy of Sake is an annual event that not only takes place in Honolulu and Japan but all over the world. Participants are invited to explore and taste different types of sake at Honolulu’s best Japanese restaurants. You’re on vacation in Hawai’i, so why not indulge a little?
Aloha Festivals is the largest Hawaiian cultural celebration in the U.S. In 1946, Aloha Festivals began as “Aloha Week,” a cultural celebration of Hawai‘i’s music, dance and history intended to perpetuate the islands’ unique traditions. A group of former Jaycees – known as the Jaycees Old-timers of Hawai‘i – had the vision to create a public celebration to honor Hawai‘i’s heritage.
In 1991, Aloha Week became Aloha Festivals. Aloha Festivals has become a statewide celebration of Hawaiian culture with major events on the island of O‘ahu. Thousands of volunteers work together each year to stage the events, which are attended by more than 100,000 people.
Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
Hungry for a gourmet getaway? The Hawaii Food and Wine Festival takes place in late October across multiple islands. The event features a stunning cast of internationally acclaimed chefs and culinary personalities as well as wine and spirit producers.
Surrounded by beautiful ocean waters, it comes as no surprise that canoeing is such a popular team sport in Hawaii. The Molokai Hoe Canoe Race invites canoe paddling teams from around the world to cross the Kaiwi Channel, which spans 41 miles of open ocean. Fans can watch the racers take off from Hale O Lono and finish at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Vans Triple Crown
For many, a Hawaiian vacation isn’t complete without catching some waves. Celebrate the art of surfing at Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Clear skies, warm weather, and giant, curling waves attract professional surfers from around the world to compete. The water sporting event begins in November and carries into early December.
Another popular sporting event on O’ahu is the Honolulu Marathon. As one of the largest marathons in the United States, this dash through paradise stretches 26.2 miles from Ala Moana Boulevard to Kapiolani Park. Take in the magnificent views of Hawaii and get your heart racing. We can’t think of a better marathon location.
Honolulu City Lights
Get in the spirit this holiday season and experience Honolulu City Lights, a month-long celebration with dazzling Christmas light displays at Honolulu Hale. You’ll be able to participate in numerous family-friendly activities and even receive a visit from Shaka Santa and Mrs. Clause!